Thursday, September 17, 2009

Take Care of Your Voice During Flu Season!

Unfortunately, it's true. Especially as the temperatures drop here in Vermont, it's hard to ignore that it's that time of year again: flu season. Whether or not you're worried about catching the H1N1 virus (what was being called the "swine flu"), influenza, or the common cold, chances are you'll have to deal with the stuffy nose, tickle in your throat, or balloon head at some point in the coming months. For many of us in the voice-talent industry, taking time off work isn't always an option. Voice-over artists can't tell a client to wait a few days, just as actors and singers can't hold up production because of a case of the sniffles. The show must go on. While we can't give you fool-proof tips beyond common sense practices to avoid catching a virus (i.e., wash your hands often, cover your mouth when you cough, clean common hard surfaces with alcohol, get plenty of sleep, etc.), we can tell you some pointers to help you avoid sounding as bad as you may feel when you step up to the mic.

  • Drink water like it's your job! Not only will staying hydrated boost your immune system, but it will also decrease the amount of mucous in your mouth and throat. The mic picks up the sound of the thick saliva, and you'll spend hours editing out the "pops" and "smacks" if you're not adequately hydrated.
  • To avoid and treat mild nasal congestion, try using a neti pot as a natural method of cleansing the nasal passages. The lukewarm solution of salt and water gently washes away mucous and build up that only inflames your sinuses even more. Neti pots are also great for reducing the stuffy or nasally sound you may get with seasonal allergies.
  • Avoid dairy. You should avoid eating dairy at least 12 hours before doing a recording anyway, and this is even more true if you are feeling congested. Dairy thickens the saliva and becomes a "petri dish" for bacteria and viruses to multiply.
  • Avoid eating starchy carbs. Starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes, bread, and pasta, may have the same effect as dairy. Furthermore, many people have unknown, mild allergies to wheat, which only become exacerbated when your immune system is down.
  • Eat brothy meals. They're warm, delicious, nutritious, and easy to digest. Enough said! Add a splash of hot sauce to the broth for dinner. Not only will the hot sauce help drain mucous, but also chilies and jalapenos have anti-viral properties.
  • Get blood circulating to your head. Although most of us aren't yogis and can't hold 10-minute headstands, you can still get some of the same health benefits by staying in poses that will make the blood and lymph drain toward the head. Try lying down on a bed with your head comfortably hanging off the edge. Relax there for 3-5 minutes. You may notice that your sinus pressure increases while in the pose, but after you (slowly) come out of the pose, you should notice your energy is higher and that you can breathe more easily. This type of pose will also stimulate your immune system.
  • Eat a green apple. "An apple a day..." Well, it may be too late to keep the doctor away, but eating a green apple before you go into the studio will clean out the mucous and leave your mouth feeling fresh.
  • Dab, don't blow! If you're not producing greenish mucous, you may only be aggravating your nasal passages even more by blowing your nose. Get rid of the sniffles by dabbing or wiping your nose frequently.
  • For the persistent cough, take a teaspoon of olive oil. A far cry from your grandma's Castor oil, olive oil will sooth your throat for hours after you take it without the side effects of many medicines.
  • Do light exercise. Exercise boosts your immune system and is especially useful at the onset of a virus. Don't over-do it, but get your blood, muscles and body moving to help fend off illness. Exercise is extremely useful in reducing stress, which also lowers your immune system. No matter what you do, exercising before you go into the recording studio will make you sound like you have more energy than you actually have!
  • Back away from the coffee, and pick up the herbal tea. When we're feeling lethargic and low on energy because of illness, stress, or lack of sleep, many of us try to rely on caffeine to get us through the day. This is generally a bad idea. Caffeine lowers the immune system's defense mechanism and will prevent you from getting the restful sleep you need when you finally crawl into bed at night. Try a hot herbal tea and see if you were just craving something hot to drink.
  • For a sore throat, take a teaspoon of honey with a few flakes of red pepper. Avoid drinking water directly after, as you want it to coat your throat for a while. The pepper flakes bring blood to the surface of your skin while the honey works its antibacterial magic.
  • Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to clear your throat! Hard coughs, while they feel great in the short-run, will ruin your voice in the long-run, decreasing your stamina in the studio. Instead, gentle, "fake"-sounding coughs will help you get through your session.
  • Make time for a short nap. Short, 30-minute naps, or "power naps" are a great fix to boost energy, rest your vocal chords, and clear your head before you record.
And finally...
  • Know when to call it quits! Respect your body and know when you need a time-out. Plus, it's better to turn down a job offer today with someone who may want to work with you tomorrow than to give them a low-quality product today and risk losing a future client.
  • Experiment a little. If a cold changes the pitch or range of your voice so much that it no longer sounds like you, take advantage of this opportunity to play around with different characters, moods or emotions. Beyond amusing yourself, you may actually land work with your "sick voice".
Have tricks that keep you healthy when others around you are calling in sick? What's your go-to that helps you sound and feel better when you do catch a nasty bug? Feel free to post them here in the comments section!

-By: Catherine Marshall


  1. Yes -- the neti pot totally works! And I swear by the spicy Vietnamese soup that you add the red sauce to. It's a magic cure for just about anything that ales you!

  2. For sure on the power naps. I swear by the 20 minute kind. I'm not scared to rock out one or maybe two a week after work and whatnot.

    I'm not sure about cutting out the coffee though, that would be tough in the Vermont winter!

    -C. Brahma